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An Interview with Dr Ayesha Azam (NHS Pathologist and FRCPath Mentor)

  • December 04, 2020

BDI Resourcing had the delight of speaking with Dr Ayesha Azam, a FRCPath International Mentor and Digital Pathology Research Fellow at University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire (UHCW). We wanted to hear about her own experience with FRCPath and her advice for International Medical Graduates on how to revise.

Why did you decide to become a Pathologist?

I was attracted to histopathology as a career option during the early stages of my foundation training. I was fascinated by the tremendous impact these tiny tissue sections on a piece of glass have on the diagnosis and treatment of patients. I liked the problem solving aspect as well as the diversity of the work involved.

What advice would you give to an international Doctor working towards their FRCPath?

Preparing for this exam is a long-term process so start preparing well in advance. Individuals can have different circumstances and approach towards any medical exam, however, this exam is not something that you can pass with ‘cramming’.

Check the curriculum for histopathology trainees on RCPath website that outlines the knowledge, skills and minimum experience required by the UK specialty trainees.

Join the social media discussion groups relevant to FRCPath to get guidance and advice from those who have recently passed this exam.

Having sufficient knowledge, skills and experience are crucial, however, you need to apply this knowledge in the context of UK practice. Familiarize yourself with the rules and regulations in NHS systems and RCPath’s cancer datasets and tissue pathways. It is important to remember that autopsy and gynaecological cytology are not included in the FRCPath part 2 exam and can be taken separately.

For overseas candidates who do not have any experience of working in the UK, a clinical attachment can be very helpful option to observe and learn about local practice protocols. However, in the current pandemic situation this might not be feasible to arrange. The next thing that you can do is either get informal advice from UK based pathologists or sign up to International Trainee Support Scheme (ITSS) programme by RCPath. Over the last few years. I have been approached by few overseas pathologists over social media to participate inwebinars/online lectures on ‘FRCPath for Overseas’ and the feedback from the attendees has been really encouraging. I have seen lots of online international webinars (e.g. from RCPAth and CAP) and these can add valuable boost to your preparation. Attending relevant exam preparatory courses (either UK based or online) can be extremely beneficial to gain good understanding of what does this exam involve and how to approach each component. So explore your options with the key focus on learning about the UK pathology practice and combine it with your experience and knowledge to gain the required competencies.

To sum it up all ‘plan ahead, speak to those who has recently passed the exam, make use of online resources, prepare well and give it your best shot’

How long did it take you to pass your full FRCPath?

I was in a run-through specialty training program in the UK where we progress through well-structured 4 different stages (A, B, C and D). I completed my part 1 exam soon after completing first 12 months of training (Early stage B) and passed part two in my fourth year of training (Stage C).

How did you prepare?

The things that helped me most were a detailed study plan, gaining exposure to lots of routine cases, guidance from my colleagues/mentors and attending preparatory courses.

Which parts did you find most challenging?

I think cytology and short surgical components can be more challenging and that’s what I keep hearing from overseas FRCPath candidates who I mentored as part of RCPath’s ITSS programme. 

Can you tell us about your own journey to the UK and what advice you would have for others?

I moved to UK about 14 years back, at a rather early stage of my career. I completed IELTS, PLAB and UKFPO assessment to secure a foundation training post in West Midlands. Afterwards, I successfully qualified for a run-through specialty training post and now I am in the final few months of completion of my training.

From my personal experience, I understand how it can feel to try and learn about a completely different system. People say ‘Pathology is global’, it truly is. So the pathology knowledge remains the same whichever country you have been trained in. The real difference is in the variations in practice and protocols that are relatively unique to each health system. I went an extra mile during my foundation training to get myself familiarized with the local practice protocols and I would give the same advice to overseas FRCPath candidates to put great emphasis on learning the practice protocols used in UK.

Relocating to the UK

If you are an international Histopathologist who would like to relocate to the UK, email your CV to [email protected] and we can support you in securing an NHS post and on your journey to relocate to the UK.


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